Thursday, June 23, 2011

A trip to the sea

They went, they swam, they conquered!

Blue Dragon's annual "Excellent Students Trip" was a great success. In total, 46 Blue Dragon kids traveled to Cua Lo Beach for 2 days of fun as a reward for their excellent results and behaviour at school.

The pictures say it all...

The "Tug of war" game ended up attracting the
entire beach to watch and cheer them on...

OK, I have no idea what's going on in this picture, but everyone looks happy

The games went on into the night...

Could this little girl look any happier??

The whole crowd on the beach

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Child trafficking in Vietnam is rife.

Since 2005, Blue Dragon has been helping kids escape traffickers and get home to their families. So far we have helped 92 children escape from trafficking within Vietnam, and 9 girls and young women escape from sex trafficking in China.

When I say "trafficking within Vietnam," I mean kids being taken from their homes - almost always under false pretenses - to be put to work as slaves. The first kids we rescued were selling flowers in District 1 of Ho Chi Minh City; these days most of the kids we go looking for are working in garment factories.

We haven't even started on the issue of kids being trafficked to work in cocoa plantations or gold mines.

A report out by World Vision today finds that "for every trafficking victim subjected to forced prostitution, nine people are forced to work." And yet, because of the brutality of sex trafficking and the attention it has had in the media, most work by charities and agencies around the world focuses exclusively on stopping the sex trafficking. Relatively little work is being done to help the kids who are slaving away in the factories and farms, for little or no pay, in horrid conditions.

(See Tim Costello's article on this issue here).

This week, one of the Vietnamese newspapers has run a feature on the issue of kids in garment factories. The images they've captured are quite moving (and, from experience, I know how difficult it is to capture such footage - the factory owners do not appreciate people turning up with cameras).

Have a look at the article here - Tuoi Tre News - but a translation of the text is below.

Child Labor Article, Tuoi Tre Newspaper June 2011

... and here's the video clip with subtitles:

Anyone with half a conscience must be outraged by this.

Friday, June 10, 2011

School's out

The school year has ended here in Vietnam, and at Blue Dragon we like to celebrate our kids completing each year of school.

Last weekend we held the 'Closing Ceremony' for all the kids we support out in Bac Ninh province. These kids are part of a program we call Stay In School, because that's exactly what we help them to do: stay in school!

Bac Ninh is a rural province, not far from Hanoi but with a significant problem of students dropping out of school and subsequently being trafficked for labour exploitation. I once spoke to a truck driver who told me how much money he could make by transporting children aged under 16 to Ho Chi Minh City to work in factories. The bounty back then was about $25 per child.

We started helping kids in this area back in 2004. At first we were supporting just 75 children, mostly girls (as they are at higher risk than boys of dropping out of school). These days, we are helping close to 600, and our sponsors around the world pay for their uniforms, school fees, health insurance, books and stationery.

Our sponsorship system ensures that we help not only the individual children we've identified as needing support, but also the entire school. The students we support are spread across over 25 schools, from Grades 5 through to 12. So far we've built 2 libraries and provided desks, teaching equipment, and a whole range of supplies that the whole school community can benefit from. Next on our list is to build toilet blocks in one of the primary schools... and we're starting to offer university scholarships to the year 12 graduates, too.

At the end of the day, it's the kids who are most important, so last Sunday we took the opportunity to congratulate them for their success. Because there are so many kids, we held 2 ceremonies - one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There was some singing and dancing, a few games on the stage, and of course gifts for everyone.

Holding an event like this shows the kids how important we think their success is. Those who did particularly well at school received a special certificate, but regardless of how they went everyone received some gifts to take home.

The 'Closing Ceremony' is a simple affair - well, as simple as an event for 590 children and teens can be - but it's an important way for us to acknowledge that the kids can and do succeed at school, in spite of whatever difficulties they may have in life.

Kids arriving for the Ceremony...

The community hall is packed!

These are the kids who did particularly well at school.
Each receives a certificate and extra gift from us.

The kids love to get up and sing!

A word of thanks

In recent months, Blue Dragon has been coming across many runaway children who've come to Hanoi from rural areas.

These are often very small children, aged up to 14 but tiny and looking frightfully vulnerable on the streets of the city.

Increasingly, we're finding that parents of runaway children are coming to Hanoi to look for their children, and the police are advising them to come and see us. This is something of an honour, and of course something we're more than happy to help with.

One such family from Hung Yen province approached us last month, desperate to find their son. They were plastering the city with "Lost" posters, having no other ideas of what they might do.

Thirteen year old Tri had run away after a small problem at school, and one small problem grew into a bigger problem... Eventually Tri was much too frightened to go home, but we were able to reconnect the child with his parents, and after a tearful reunion Tri went home and back to school.

Another happy ending!

Shortly after, Tri's father, Mr Han, sent us this letter - with the rough translation below. (I've removed identifying info, such as the full name and address). I thought this was worth posting...

Socialist Republic of Vietnam
Independence - Freedom - Happiness
Dear: Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation
Date: April 10, 2011
My name is: Han (35 years old)
Address: Hung Yen province

I would like to send my sincerest thanks to all staff at Blue Dragon because you helped me find my son, Tri. During the time my son away from home, he was cared for, and helped a lot by Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation. And Blue Dragon also provided me all of his information, then helped us find our son.

Once again, on behalf of my family, I sincerely thank everyone in Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation.


Mr Han

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Yesterday the Blue Dragon team did something we haven't done before: We launched a couple of books.

Over the past months we have been working on this as a side project to our legal advocacy work. Since about 2004 we've accumulated a wealth of experience in protecting the rights of children in Vietnam. Our work has included advocating for children in court... helping kids and their families obtain birth certificates... supporting young people who have been victims of crime... and even enrolling kids in school in cases where the schools have tried to deny them access.

So we wrote a book about all of these experiences, enticingly called: Guidelines for good practice in providing legal advocacy services for children who are in conflict with the law in Vietnam.

We then went a step further and wrote a comic book for kids, called Truoc Dot - or Slippery Slope - about a teenage boy getting into trouble with the police. Apart from the story, there's specific information for young people who are arrested.

Both of these publications are available for free on our website:

The Guidelines are in both English and Vietnamese.

We're hoping that this launch will be a good start to helping other organisations in Vietnam learn from our successes and our mistakes.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Greening the Blue Dragon

Blue Dragon's Hue staff have been teaching the village kids about looking after the environment - starting with creating a garden right in our Youth Centre.

It's early days, but the kids are keen!

Thursday, June 02, 2011


When Blue Dragon started back in early 2003, we were focused on helping street kids get off the streets and back into school or vocational training. Some were old enough to get jobs, and their most popular choice was in hospitality, where jobs are relatively easy to come by.

Over the years, the horizons of the kids coming to us have broadened. We're supporting one teenage girl to study Civil Engineering at university; we have teens studying Business Management, motorbike mechanics, and languages.

And, of course, we still have kids interested in hospitality and vocational training.

Our challenge is to help the kids with their career choices. It's rarely easy for young people to decide what they want to do with their lives; even moreso for kids who believe they don't have any chance at success anyway.

To deal with this, the Blue Dragon psychologist has been organising career orientation programs, involving field trips to places of business, and arranging weekend workshops at the Blue Dragon centre in Hanoi. Last weekend about 30 kids turned up to learn about a range of job options, including:

- cooking, with a presentation by a former street kid who now works as a chef at Don's Bistro

- mechanics, with trainees and staff of VIP Bikes sharing their experience

- hairdressing

- sales and marketing

- web design

... and a presentation about becoming a Social Worker, by one of our own.

Altogether, a very successful day!